Not Getting By in America

The federal minimum wage is still only $7.25 an hour, which comes to $290 a week, before any taxes are subtracted (not to mention health insurance costs, etc.); even at the Massachusetts minimum wage of $8 per hour, the totally per week is only $300, per month approx. $1200. The last time I checked, the least expensive one bedroom apartment I saw advertised was $600 per month. If taxes only took 25% of my $1200 monthly income, I’d be left with $900, and if rent was $600… three hundred dollars left for food, car related expenses (if I could even afford to keep the car!) clothing… the activities my children currently get to take part in –horseback riding; cross country skiing – would clearly have to go, as there would be absolutely no way we could afford them, on my salary, alone. Even if I didn’t have any children to take care of, it would still be pretty difficult to feed and cloth myself, and keep my car running, on only $300 a month, impossible, I’d say. And I certainly wouldn’t have enough money to take a sociology class at community college! Tho’ I suppose I would then qualify for financial aid.

But even if I got financial aid, where would I find the time (and energy!) to go to school? Perhaps the most surprising thing about Ehrenreich’s experience was how completely exhausted she was, how her life was really all about going to and from work, even before she tried taking on the second job. For a woman with children… taking on the second job would make it impossible to be around for the children, esp. in those well known after school/before dinner and bedtime “witching” hours, when we heard adolescent crime peaks, and which are the hours when my friend, the single mom, is pretty sure her then 15 year old got pregnant… while she was busy working two jobs, so she could afford to move her single-parent family to a better apartment…

The issues begin to compound. And, as Ehrenreich points out, if one gets sick, or injured and can’t work for a while, thereby losing what little minimum wage income one does earn… homelessness and utter financial ruin are not far away, unless one somehow finds a very different way to live (alluded to with George living in the “flophouse”, where he had to wait for his turn to sleep, until someone else went to work thereby freeing up a bed… ) and/or one is able to borrow from, stay with friends. People do apparently survive, on minimum wage jobs, but it obviously isn’t easy, nor is it pretty, as Ehrenreich discovered.

I think the only way a family with two children could survive on a minimum wage job would be thru extreme creativity, extreme good health, not eating much, and, good fortune and good friends and neighbors. I think surviving on a minimum wage salary would require a very different kind of cooperative community-based creativity, than the kind of “individualistic” living I currently do, with my family.

I do think the minimum wage should be raised; this may not be very easy, in the current political climate. In addition, the minimum wage would have to be raised so much, to help a single-parent live above the Federal poverty line, that I am not sure this is realistic – thinking the wage could be raised that much. An article in the 3-31-11 issue of The New York Times addressed just this issue, “Many Low Wage Jobs Seen as Failing to Meet Basic Needs”. A link to the article is here:

According to the research reported on here, minimum wages would need to be significantly more, to enable families to live at a level where more than just absolute basic needs could be met. Ehrenreich conducted her experiment all the way back in 1998; we as a society still face similar issues, today. The more things change, the more they stay the same?


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